A Guide to Growing Crops in Cold Climates

Climate Change

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Climate change is causing extreme freezing events

The detrimental impacts of global warming have been a hotly discussed topic in recent decades. Often, when the theme of climate change is discussed it is the effects of rising temperatures that are the focus. However, it is not only extreme heat that is changing our planet.

As the earth warms, rapid warming of the stratosphere is becoming more frequent, resulting in the destabilization of the polar vortex. This has the effect of bringing cold air into the mid-attitudes, causing extreme weather events. These splits in the polar vortex have been attributed to the cold arctic air that has been drawn to areas such as the US, where extreme freezing events have become more frequent in recent years.

The link between warmer global temperatures and harsher winters in particular global regions, such as the Northern American states, is strengthening. Recent research published in the journal Nature Communications concluded that colder North American winters were indeed linked to warmer Arctic temperatures.

Increasingly cool winters in some regions, as a result of climate change, are posing challenges to several industries. Agriculture is one sector, in particular, that is directly impacted by changes in temperature. Over the past few decades scientists have made great strides forward in tackling increasing temperatures and more frequent droughts, now they are being called upon to help farmers adapt to colder winters.

Find out more about the effects of climate change on crop yields here.

Growing crops in colder temperatures

Below, we discuss how farmers are adapting to colder climates, and how scientists are providing new agricultural techniques to boost crop growth in increasingly falling temperatures.

Choosing the right crops

One of the simplest ways to grow a healthy crop yield in cold climates is to carefully select crops that thrive in winter. Certain crops grow happily in lower temperatures and can survive a frost. Farmers have been aware of this for hundreds of years, knowing which time of the year to sow and reap certain plants.

Farms that operate in colder climates often opt to plant vegetables such as carrots and beets that can handle lower temperatures. Mache greens, spinach, and lettuces can also thrive during the winter months. Education is the most powerful tool when selecting the correct seasonal crops. Some can handle the cold and frosts but need to be harvested before the soil freezes. Also, following optimal sowing times is vital to ensuring a healthy crop yield.

Protecting crops

Farmers working in colder climates, such as in Canada, the Northern US states, such as Maine, or Northern Europe, such as Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, are familiar with utilizing certain equipment to protect their crops from extremely cold temperatures during winter.

Global regions that are experiencing unusually cold weather are advised to adopt these techniques, such as using frameworks to cover crops and protect them from cold winds and adverse weather conditions. Currently, those made from recycled materials are most popular, as this also helps promote sustainable farming.

Protecting Crops

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Thinking outside the box with new technologies

Agriculture is already benefitting from advances in technology, helping farms to cope with drought and increasing temperatures, farming in increasingly reduced spaces, produce crops with greater nutritional value, switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and even to help crops stay fresher for longer. Now, technologies are also being developed to assist farmers in producing successful crops in cold temperatures.

Developing cold-resistant crops

One innovative solution to protecting crops from the cold is to develop strains of crops that are genetically built to be cold-resistant. Recently, scientists have come close to achieving this with corn, which is typically a tropical plant that thrives in warmer climates.

In theory, cold-tolerant strains could be developed in all crops that naturally suffer from the cold, allowing farmers to grow healthy crop yields regardless of icy winters. It would also allow farmers to grow a greater variety of crops all year round, benefiting the local area, supplying a reliable and varied food source.

However, we are currently in the early stages of developing cold-resistant crops. It may be several years before these strains become available.

Smart heaters

Technology company SCNA has been working with cannabis farmers in the US to develop the SMART Micro Boiler. This new piece of technology addresses the issue that cannabis crops are often detrimentally impacted when temperatures fall too low. They created a boiler that systematically warms the soil to the correct temperatures set by the cultivator. In theory, this technology could be adopted by farmers growing a variety of crops.

Leveraging AI

The birth of the Internet of Things (IoT) has greatly benefitted the agricultural sector. Sensors have been developed to detect the numerous factors that influence crop growth, such as light, nutrients, air, water, humidity, and temperature. These sensors then relay their information to a connected device, such as a computer or tablet, where the data can be analyzed.

Without the need for human intervention, the results of the analysis can trigger action in other connected devices, those put in place to control for these various factors. For example, if the soil is detected as being too dry, this can trigger the sprinkler system.

Sensors are deeply useful for growing crops in cold temperatures. They can automatically trigger heating systems, or alert farmers when the soil is too cold and the plants should be harvested.]

Future directions

Cooler winters as a result of climate change have been posing a challenge to farmers. Thankfully, new technologies are being developed to ensure crop success even in harsh climates. In the coming years, we can expect further technological advancements that will serve to further secure the future of agriculture.

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Further Reading

Last Updated: Oct 16, 2020

Sarah Moore

Written by

Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.

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